When I was a young girl, the best but most difficult month of my life in Afghanistan was Ramadan. Till I got married I lived in a very big family. During Ramadan I had to get up very early to make sahari (breakfast) for the entire household. Usually I prepared milk-based items such as cakes and cookies, but sometimes if we had guests in the house I had to prepare rice with meat. It was a lot of work.
However, the real pressure was the time of iftari (breaking of fast in the evening), because we had to cook the night meal before our brothers returned home from work. By that time, having fasted all day, the entire household was really hungry and thirsty, and everyone expected to be given some food. Usually for iftari I would make something light, like soup (pakawara). After that I would perform salah (the prescribed prayers). Then I had to serve the night meal to everyone, and I ate with my own family. I generally cooked manto (dumplings), bolani (stuffed paratha) or qabili pulao – nourishing dishes that restored the energy lost through fasting.
In Afghanistan, Eid was the only festival for which Rabia’s entire family gathered to eat lunch, including her brother-in-law with his family and in-laws. On Eid morning Rabia got up earlier than anyone else. Before anyone else woke, she cleaned the house and made breakfast, which everyone ate together. She made lots of cookies and served these with jam and cheese to the extended family. After breakfast the men went to the mosque for Eid prayers. When prayers were over, sheep and cows were ritually sacrificed according to custom. Rabia’s family used to sacrifice two sheep, one for themselves and one for her in-laws. After the sacrifice Rabia would separate the livers and kidneys to be barbecued for the feast. After lunch everyone dressed up in new clothes bought for the Eid celebration, and made traditional courtesy visits to their relatives’ homes.
For Rabia, here in India Eid feels as mundane a day as any other day of the year. There is no difference between the festival event and happenings of daily life. She does not experience any excitement on Eid. She has neither extended family here, nor any close friends from her past – she has made some new friends from among the acquaintances she meets in Bosco. Without her extended family it is not possible to make the ritual sacrifice. Rather, Rabia stays indoors at home in Hauz Rani as the narrow lanes are messy with animal blood and it is impossible to walk around until it is cleaned up. She buys some new clothes for her children, but cannot afford it for herself. In the evening she goes around the neighbourhood with her daughter, visiting her new friends at their homes, and welcoming them with cookies if they come to visit her.
My grandmother’s favourite festival was Nowroz, the New Year, because it symbolized renewal and new opportunities for everyone. As a child she lived in a Hazara village in the Bamyan region. Nowroz was celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm and joy. The villagers decorated their cattle with garlands and also drew a tomar (draw a triangle) in different colours on the forehead of the cattle. The village elders gathered on the land to pray for a year of peace, happiness and blessings. On Nowroz everyone went out with family, relatives and friends to celebrate the festival. They visited each other at home, and went for group picnics where the song Hala Nowroz Amad (Its again New Year )was always sung. It was believed that if one celebrated in this way on Nowroz, meeting others and sharing laughter and joy, the whole year would pass in that manner.
People in my grandmother’s village also believed that if they walked on grass on Nowroz, their year would be fresh and prosperous, like the green grass. This extended to the custom of cooking sawzi chalaw, a dish made from green vegetables and rice. Sawzi (vegetables) was spiced with jeera (cumin) and bujindaq(Vegetable like spring onion). Farming was the main occupation, and all the grains, produce and ingredients for Nowroz food were grown in the villagers’ own fields. On Nowroz they also baked cookies called kulche makhzi on traditional wood-fired or clay stoves. People carried sawzi chalaw and kulche makhzi as gifts when they visited each other.
When my grandmother’s family moved to Kabul, they had to change our way of celebrating Nowroz. They could not grow anything, so they began cooking sawzi with spinach and onion bought from the market. They stopped baking kulche makhzi. Those who could afford it cooked kofta (meatballs) on Nowroz, and the others continued to make the traditional sawzi chalaw. Over the years in the city some people developed a Nowroz dish made of seven dry-fruits: charmakhz, sinjid, hulinj, bada, (Nuts,peanuts, almonds, grapes) kishmish (raisins), surkh (red colour raisins) and pista (pistachio). These items were mashed with water two days before Nowroz, and set so that the mixture was ready for the festival. The dish acquired its own special taste. It is only made by those people who have nazar (A meal made for holy purpose, a feast for all).
In Kabul my grandmother’s family did go out and visit others on the festival, but it was quite dull as compared to their experience of celebrating Nowroz in their village.
Eid is one of the most important festivals of Somalia. There are a lot of differences between the way Eid is celebrated in Somalia and the Eid customs in India. In Somalia my family sacrificed a goat on Eid, but here we don’t do that because we don’t have the money. And neither do we have our extended families to celebrate with. Here on Eid we just go to the mosque in the morning, and after we have prayed there we go to the park to sit, talk, play. Our festival meal in Somalia was goat meat with rice, biscuits and halwa. Here we cook ordinary food on Eid, nothing uncommon. The only special dish we make is halwa.
Christmas / New Year
Here in Delhi I try not to recall the Christmas/New Year festival time in Congo. Those memories make me very sad as I remember my parents and how we used to celebrate those happy days. I was an only child. On New Years’ day my mother cooked a lot of delicious food and dressed me up in beautiful clothes because we went visiting our relatives. But when I was fourteen years old gunmen shot dead my mother and my father. He was in the army, and like many others was destined to come to this end after the revolution. I escaped with a relative’s help and took refuge in the homes of various relatives, turn by turn. Since becoming an orphan I have had no home of my own. In Congo after losing my parents I stayed in different houses of relatives and neighbours kind enough to take me in and protect me from violence. I came to India with a group two years ago, and from that time on have been living with friends. Dependent on other people’s generosity, I spend my days trying to survive, to ensure I have food and that my current place of shelter is secure. After losing my parents, I find all festivals dull and meaningless. To me a festival day is the same as any other day, except that sometimes on festivals I go out with my friends.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Ingredients: Cassava, Beans, Spring Onion, Garlic, Chilies, Palm Oil, Salt
Blend the cassava and beans in a grinder and boil the pulp in water for 30 minutes. Add palm oil, chopped garlic, spring onion, chilies and salt and mix these into the pulp thoroughly. Boil it again for 30 minutes. Serve hot.
Ingredients: Flour, Oil, Egg, Milk, Baking powder, Vanilla
Mix flour, oil, egg and half a teaspoon of baking powder into the milk and vanilla. Pour this into the small moulds in a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Before serving, decorate the top of the cookies with chocolate.
Ingredients: Corn Flour, Ghee, Sugar, Food Colour, Cardomom
Add a full cup of sugar to some water in a large container. Boil for 30 minutes. Reduce heat, add the corn flour, ghee, food colouring and cardamom. Cook the mixture for about 3 hours, stirring periodically, till it becomes thick and concentrated. Turn off the heat, pour the mixture onto a flat surface or tray and let it set. Cut it into evenly sized diamond shapes before it gets cold.
Ingredients: Flour, Egg, Sugar, Vegetables, Cardamom, Korma
Mix cardamom, egg and sugar into the flour and knead the dough thoroughly. Set it aside for 30 minutes. Fill small pieces of the dough with vegetables and korma. Bake the pieces in the oven till they are toasted to a light red colour.
Ingredients: Chicken (1 kg), Chickpeas, Sunflower oil, Onion, Tomato, Tomato sauce, Garlic, Cardamom
Red chilies Cut the chicken into chunks and set aside. Put the chickpeas in a vessel to parboil. Chop three onions and fry them in white oil in a medium vessel. Add chopped tomatoes and some tomato sauce along with finely-chopped garlic, and mix well. Add cardamom and red chilies and cook the gravy for 10 minutes. Slowly add the parboiled chickpeas. Add the chicken chunks, salt, a generous amount of water, and let it cook for 30 minutes. Before serving, break Iraqi bread into small pieces and add to the dish.